A woman's murder reignites visions of France's anti-Semitism
Kobili Traore, 29, a Muslim immigrant to France, killed Sarah Halim, 65, his Jewish neighbor, while armed French police stood outside her door, listened to her anguished screams, and did not respond until she was thrown off her balcony to her death.
Sarah Halim was the mother of three, a physician, and a kindergarten teacher. She had long feared Traore. Her death was a minor item in the French media.
The French government is refusing to prosecute Traore for his crime because he was high on cannabis and deemed not responsible for his actions.
If Traore had run over someone while drinking, he most certainly would be held responsible, for France has some of the strictest drunk driving laws in Europe. Drinking does not mitigate one's responsibility for vehicular homicide.
Whether that would apply if the driver were Muslim and the victim were Jewish, however, now seems a fair question. Since 2003, twelve Jews have been killed in France for being Jews. Their assailants were Muslims.
Initially, these cases were not labeled anti-Semitic, just as Halim's death has not been so classified by the prosecution, even though Traore says seeing Jewish symbols in her home, after he broke into it, made him feel persecuted.
Traore had harassed his neighbor before because she was Jewish. The ostensible mitigation because of his cannabis high sharply ignores that he was screaming "Allah akbar" and Quranic verses as he beat and tormented her before hurling her to her death.
If this precedent stands, all anyone will have to do to kill Jews, in France, and avoid prosecution is get high before he commits his act of murder and blame his behavior on cannabis.
The prosecutor's decision has caused shock and outrage. But why?
France has a long history of killing Jews. What difference does one more Jewish life make, especially when Muslims as a constituency now far outnumber Jews?
The Vichy government of France eagerly adopted the Nuremberg Laws of their Nazi conquerors. Jews were rounded up and interned in deplorable conditions before being deported to death camps. According to a document made public in 2010, Marshal Pétain himself had hardened the language of the Statute on Jews, France's imitation of the infamous Nuremberg Laws, which served as the basis for the declassification of Jews from the human race.
The Milice, a French paramilitary force that basked in Nazi ideology, became a potent weapon in the rounding up of Jews for the Nazis.
The infamous Vel d'Hive Roundup was a mass arrest of Jews, in July 1942, by French police without active participation of the Nazis. The Jewish victims included some 5,000 women and 4,000 children. They were held in the Vélodrome d'Hiver without being supplied with food, water, or toilet facilities.
Those that didn't die in the Vélodrome were transported to an extermination camp in the east.
Western audiences became aware of the Vélodrome d'Hiver and its brutal conditions because of the novel, Sarah's Key, which was made into a critically acclaimed movie by that title in 2010.
As is the case with many peoples who became Hitler's willing executioners when it came to the Jews, there was more than one French response to the Nazis. The French also hid Jews and fought the Nazis.
Although the new French nationalism, heralded by Marine Le Pen, excuses the French nation for its complicity, more sober voices have made different pronouncements.
French president Emmanuel Macron has denounced his country's role in the Holocaust and those who would excuse it.
The image of France and its Jews that will prevail will be decided by how the French judicial system ultimately handles the brutal murder of a Jewish kindergarten teacher, physician, and mother of three, who harmed no one but was murdered for being Jewish.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center.